Pakistani police arrested Aasia Bibi, a 21-year-old-bride, on murder charges. After being forced to an arranged marriage, the woman poisoned her husband’s milk, leading to a fatal poisoning of at least 17 of her in-laws.
Police detained 21-year-old Aasia Bibi, her boyfriend Shahid Lashari, and her aunt, Pakistani authorities informed on Wednesday. The woman wedded against her will in September, even though she was already in a relationship with Lashari.
“I repeatedly asked my parents not to marry me against my will as my religion, Islam, also allows me to choose the man of my choice for marriage but my parents rejected all of my pleas and they married me to a relative,” she said.
Forced marriage is still a common practice in Pakistan, especially in rural areas. The families of the newlyweds lived on the same street in a remote village about 100 km from Multan, a city in Punjab Province. Traditionally, marriage is a popular way to unite bonds between two families.
“Arranged marriage is a source of comfort for most parents here as they feel that the existing close ties between families will strengthen the new relationship,” said Salman Sufi, an aide to Punjab’s chief minister.
Likewise, its proponents argue that older family-members have more experience and perspective. And therefore, a collectively taken decision will bear better long-term results. In some cases, however, the decision gets caught up in other aspects, like family politics or a financial agenda.
In this particular case, Bibi explicitly told her parents that she fell in love with another man and that she would go to any lengths to continue her relationship.
Marriage Practices in Pakistan
While clearly not justifiable, Bibi’s crime exemplifies the struggle of Pakistani women to exercise their free will, sometimes conducive to misguided decisions and tragic consequences.
Under the law, forced marriage in Pakistan is not legal; however, the enforcement of the law is weak at best. There are no accurate numbers of how many couples enter the marriage due to family’s coercion, but undeniably the practice is widespread.
Another type of forced marriage in Pakistan is a watta satta practice, that is, a bridal exchange of a brother-sister pair from two households. According to some estimates, even a third of marriages in rural Pakistan origins from a contract of this kind. Starting a forced relationship frequently leads to marital abuse and mental health dysfunction.
The alternative, marriage for love, often meets with a violent response from the family. On the day police arrested Aasia Bibi, in another Pakistani city, a 25-year-old Mahwish Arif died by her younger brother’s gunshot because she had recently wedded without parental consent.
Every day 3 Pakistani women die in the name of honour killings.
The familial grip on marriages in Pakistan disproportionately affects women, reinforcing dominance over women’s free will. Again, it does not mean that Bibi’s actions are a sign of breaking free from those chains. They rather represent a disturbing act of desperation amid a deeply pathological situation. But unless the popular mindset stops treating women like tradable objects, Pakistani love stories will continue the cycle of violence.
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